Copyright 2018, Marge Fenelon
The French Ursulines came to New Orleans in 1727 and established a school for girls. It’s the oldest currently-operating girls’ school in what is now the United States. In 1803, a crisis caused a group of the nuns to flee to Cuba. One of the remaining nuns, Mother St. Andre Madier, appealed to her cousin, Mother St. Michel Gensoul – also an Ursuline – for help. Mother St. Michel had been forced to leave her own monastery at Pont-Saint-Esprit during the reign of terror. And yet, she was the instrument for the devotion to Our Lady of Prompt Succor, or Our Lady of Quick Help.
Mother St. Michel was a remarkable woman with great talent, interior piety, and firm resolve. While in exile, she opened a boarding school for girls in Montpellier and was valued by the bishop there. Upon receiving her cousin’s request for help, Mother St. Michel petitioned Bishop Fournier for permission to travel to New Orleans, but he refused. To make things harder, he told Mother St. Michel that only the Pope could grant such a request. However, the Pope at that time was a prisoner of the Emperor Napoleon!
Still, that did not subdue the brave nun’s resolve. She received a divine inspiration one day while praying before a statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, She said, “O most holy Virgin Mary, if you obtain a prompt and favorable answer to my letter, I promise to have you honored in New Orleans under the title of Our Lady of Prompt Succor.”
This promise must have pleased Mary very much, because she in turn granted two favors: The letter she had sent to the Pope on March 19, 1809 received an answer from Raome dated April 28, 1809. In the letter, the Holy Father praised Mother St. Michel’s generosity and faith and approved her departure for New Orleans. In gratitude, Mother St. Michel comissioned a statue under the title Our Lady of Prompt Succor and the surprised Bishop Fournier asked to bless it once it was completed. Devotion to Notre Dame de Prompt Secourse spread quickly and in 1810, the statue Mother St. Michel had brought from France was enshrined in the Ursuline Convent Chapel in the French Quarter of New Orleans.
When the Battle of New Orleans raged in 1815, the Ursulines prayed fervently to Our Lady of Prompt Succor for protection. Against impossible odds, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson led a small, poorly-equipped army against the powerful British force of 8,000 and gained victory. The Ursulines credited Our Lady of Prompt Succor for the British defeat. Even Andrew Jackson admitted that there had to have been some kind of divine intervention in achieving victory and wrote a letter to the Ursulines to this effect.
National Votive Shrine of Our Lady of Prompt Succor Copyright 2018, Marge Fenlon
In 1895, the statue – now gilded in gold – was crowned by Decree of His Holiness Pope Leo XIII and in 1928 the Holy See approved and confirmed the naming of Our Lady of Prompt Succor as the Principal Patronness of the City of New Orleans and the State of Louisiana.
Ursuline Mausoleum, where all of the Ursuline nuns who have ever served in the United States are buried.
Through the centuries, Our Lady of Prompt Succor has continued her work, bringing quick help to those who seek her aid. Visitors from all over the world have come to the shrine, and it’s common to see the faithful kneeling or resting in the pews as they pour out their hearts to her. Given this, it’s no surprise to hear sniffling and quiet sobs of those in distress.
Like the courageous woman who brought her there, Our Lady of Prompt Succor is a woman of resolve who came for a purpose and remains to carry it out – granting quick help to all who turn to her.
I’ll be writing more about this amazing place of grace and the miracles that have taken place there in future posts. Stay tuned!